Sunday, November 05, 2006

sunset

The dream would always be the same.

I never discover the purpose for the trip, but some random event brings me back to my hometown late one night in the middle of the week. For some reason I take a detour from the usual route and come upon my mother's car parked all by itself along the edge of the road, her winter coat left behind on the front seat. I follow a trail of footprints to find her lying there alone in the darkness.

I kneel down and wrap her in my arms, catching her in time before she slips away. I lift her from the snow and hold her close, bringing warmth back to her frail body. She begins to stir and I tell her that everything will be okay--I am there now and she is not alone anymore.

Then I would wake up and slowly realize that I was in my bed and she was already gone. I'd close my eyes again, and within the next fleeting seconds, try to hold onto the image of her face.

* * * * * * * *

As the oldest child, I took it upon myself to be the strong one for everyone else in my family. Instead of letting my grief out, I kept things buried safe beneath the surface. I had done the same thing after my wife Elizabeth had died, feeling like I had to pull myself together and quickly learn how to raise our three-year old son on my own.

Several years later, in the unlikliest of places, I finally began to come to terms with my feelings of loss. I was on a business trip to Tucson, and had a few hours of free time before my flight home. Arizona had been the furthest west that I had traveled at that point in my life, and I got directions to a national park outside of town to take a closer look at some of the incredible scenery.

I pulled my rental car into an observation parking lot at the base of a small mountain. The desert floor spread out for hundreds of miles before me, with another mountain range rising up in the distance at the horizon's edge. Several people were walking on a path that led to a ridge a few hundred yards above the parking lot. It looked like there would be even better viewing from that spot, so despite the fact that I was still in suit pants and dress shoes, I began to make my way up the gently sloping trail.

The view was definitely improved once I reached the outcrop, but then I noticed that the path continued to rise along the mountainside. I became determined to see what things looked like from an even higher point, and kept following the trail in several hundred-yard stages as it took a steeper route along the ridgeline. Soon it turned into a personal challenge, as I continued to push myself further after each plateau was reached. Every time I would rationalize that since I had come that far, I might as well keep going to the top.

During the last fifteen feet I had to climb hand-over-hand. As I finally reached the top, I was greeted by a young couple sitting upon a large, flat rock. At first I was a little disappointed to have to share the setting after finally reaching my private goal, but I'm sure they couldn't have been too thrilled either with the sudden intrusion of a dust-covered, out-of-breath guy in a business suit. After about ten minutes, they began to make their way back down and I had the summit all to myself.

I sat in solitude, taking in the magnificent scene. The sky above was a clear, deep blue that gradually shifted into vivid shades of orange, red and purple as it stretched into the distance. Everything was quiet and still as the sun lowered itself slowly towards the horizon. I closed my eyes and drew in a deep breath.

The desert wind caressed my face, and the tension released from my back and shoulders. Without any warning, tears began falling. I'm not a believer in the paranormal or in ghosts, but at that moment I felt that my mother and Elizabeth were there with me on top of that mountain. I didn't have a vision or hear their voices, but I did feel surrounded by their presence and their love. It only lasted for several seconds, but when it was over I was left with the certain feeling that they were both all right, and that they were not suffering any more.

Instead of pushing my emotions down like I had always done in the past, I just let my feelings run through me without holding anything back. The tears continued to fall for some time, both in sorrow as I thought about how much I missed them and in joy as I recalled how wonderful it had felt to be with them once again, if only for a moment.

A sense of calm began to come over me as things kept working their way to the surface. The tears eventually stopped and were replaced with a smile. As I sat there in the warmth of the sun, I felt that everything was going to be okay. I felt that I was not alone anymore. I closed my eyes again, and was able to hold onto a feeling beyond those next fleeting seconds which has remained within me to this day.

I felt, once more, at peace.